Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nation Of Mean Streets

This is probably the last cross country driving trip I'll ever undertake. In the sense that I'd rely on things that we used to take for granted when we get behind the wheel and drive somewhere. I'm coming to the end of a motoring trip across country and back because my elderly father got ill and needed some help.

For those people who don't go on long driving trips there's a terrible secret that they should know - it completely changed within the last several years and you better understand what you're getting into before you start out.

First. this nation's infrastructure is decaying at an incredible rate. In the last decade I've been truly shocked at how horrible the highway system is in this country. There's no getting around it anymore, we're a third world nation in the sense that a lot of our roads are barely drivable. There just isn't the funding or the will to keep them smooth and safe; as a matter of fact some communities don't even bother with pavement any more.

This is a sad reality when you're traveling and please take it to heart - avoid cities at all cost. Even if it means a longer drive, use alternate routes. In the last few years the highways in most large cities have become a convoluted maze of deathtraps. I'll get to the drivers in a bit, but let's take a look at the roads. Traffic increased many times the estimates pretended to foretell. And here's the filthy truth - no one knows what the fuck to do about it. All large city highways are rapidly coming to pieces. The pavement must be repaired, new conduits have to be added to accomodate all those vehicles, but it has to be done piecemeal, in fits and starts, otherwise there would be major detours. And now only after they scrape together the bucks to do it.

Because of that most major city highway systems are un-navigatable. Only the locals know how to get around successfully after cursing through many attempts. Forget about GPS systems, recent construction confounds them too much to be reliable. Here's the skinny, Pilgrim, city tranportation planners made it easier for them, not you, the driver. Lanes appear and disappear. Through traffic is re routed in mysterious ways to favor heavy local flow. Sporadic repairs mean constant, endless construction zones, and don't forget all the corrupt local patronage and bribery. Metro road systems now resemble plates of spaghetti. Travelers naively stumbling into this chaos will get ground into pulp just trying to navigate around, and that doesn't take into account the city drivers.

Also a short caution about cops. Municipalities need money. Be advised.

When you travel you'll get calmer moments to reflect on things, and here's some of what I've come up with. Everywhere now but mostly in and around cities, traffic has become far, far more dangerous, really just in the last few years. Driving habits have deteriorated to disastrous levels. Used to be that there were always a few shitty drivers, now it's become the norm. Whether it's conforming to a new environment or not, they're out there in legions.

1. Sense of traffic flow has all but evaporated. Rather than exist in an even stream of vehicles which will actually get you where you want to go fastest, people gauge their progress by competing with the vehicles around them. Ergo you get lane jockeys and stupid maneuvers to get ahead of the next person to the point of insanity.

2. Kids that grew up on video games have taken them to the streets. These pimply jackoffs have no clue that those are people in other vehicles and treat them as obstacles they'll score points off of. Until they're horribly burned and maimed for life. Too bad they take others to the hospital.

3. Faux, light, little would be sports cars make people think they're race car professionals. Technology far outstripped peoples' abilities.

4. People in our society just don't give a shit anymore. It's dog eat dog godamnit and fuck the rules, get outa my way.
Which is coupled with abject terror. People are scared to death about losing their job, losing time, losing anything. It'a all unsustainable now, people know it, and are acting like frantic, infantile fools.

5. And all the above strangely coexists with a feeling of smug satisfaction that it all will just dreamily continue and you can just blithely continue to do what you want with no consequences. So people speed along at 70 in pea soup fog. Drive while texting or yakking on the phone. I'll never forget video of the Loma Prieta earthquake when all those highways fell. Drivers never even slowed down and flew off into oblivion when the road in front of them collapsed. Pretty apt metaphor.

entering a vast, strange land


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sage advice.

If I travel, it's usually by cheap Greyhound/Trailways buses.

But these bus stations are in ghetto areas; filthy and dangerous.

So I go 'packed', often with more than one.

If I drive, I plan around large cities and take back roads.

Like you said however, watch the small towns because they need funds for the local till.

31/3/10 8:26 AM  
Blogger nolocontendere said...

It's brutally horrible now dad. Never seen it so pathetically deteriorated in all my traveling days and we know it will only get worse.
I'd assume this is a jumpstart to local understanding. State and fed have dropped the ball.

31/3/10 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeez! Were you riding with me the last fall when my son and I took a 3,000 mile round trip down to Roswell pulling a 16ft utility trailer? The roads are bad, but not that bad if you've got good equipment (a truck). Still, I think my route through downtown Tulsa just about beat the suspension on my trailer to death!

I do use a GPS. No, really *I* use *IT*. I don't let it lead me. I don't know how many times I said to that thing, "Shut UP!" I finally turned off the sound. I use the scrolling map. They can cram their routes up their digital butts!

You hit the nail on the head! I go WAY out around the cities most of the time. God help you if you have a break down or a flat. They'll run over you and just wonder what the bump was... mayb...

31/3/10 5:40 PM  
Blogger nolocontendere said...

Probably the worst experience I had driving in this country was on I 84 east of Boise in a rental moving van. If I could have had my way I would have gone 10 - 15 mph, however I was forced to keep up with traffic at 50 - 60.
When I dared to take my right hand off the wheel I literally couldn't touch buttons on the radio. At the time I felt all my posessions in the back were being pulverized.

31/3/10 8:07 PM  

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